Friday, October 29, 2010

Friday Field Notes--Happy Halloween!

Happy Halloweeeeeeen.............

Come fall, these spiders are everywhere.  Between trees, power lines, fenceposts, they appear suddenly in September.  Seriously, you can't walk between any two things without getting a face full of spiderweb.  The females are the big ones.  Below you can see both the gigantic female and the rather puny-looking male:
Isn't she spectacular!  Awesome Halloween colors--black, toxic yellow, and blood red.
She doesn't look all that small in this shot (taken 09/17), but wait a few more weeks...

This particular day was halfway between misting and raining.  It had stopped by the time I left school to walk home.  The sun, halfheartedly breaking through the clouds, burned off the mist,  As I walked along a tall row of bushes flanking the road, every spider I saw was busy repairing her rain-damaged web.  See:

Her back has  neon yellow stripes and the red spot on her abdomen gets bigger and redder as she eats... 
and grows... sure to click on all these photos, so's to see them as large as possible:))

Yes, I was standing with my face about three inches away--these spiders are, as I said, everywhere, including stretched across the front of a row of bushes.  At eye level.

Look closely--you can see her eyes, too. (not that closely, though--my camera doesn't have *that* much zoom).

Jorougumo ( Nephila Clavata)--Binding Lady
a member of the Golden Orb-Web spider group

MushiNavi has a bunch of show-stopping (or heart-stopping as the case may be) shots of Jorougumo.  According to my mom friends, they aren't poisonous even though they look like they ought to be.  They made me nervous the first few times I saw them.  Now that I'm more or less used to them, I think they are spectacularly beautiful spiders. In fact, I've been watching them so much that I think I'm not scared of spiders anymore.  Watching spiders has become as interesting as watching birds--I get all excited now when I see a new one I need to look up.  My daughter and I found four completely different, all very beautiful, spiders that day walking along the hedge across from the school.  Since this post is getting long, I'll put them up later (she said, much to her sister's consternation...:)). 

See--look, Daddy. You don't have to come kill spiders for me anymore.  I can pick them up and put them back outside all by myself!   Here's the biggest one I found today (10/29):

I wonder if that swollen abdomen means she's pregnant?

Riding my bike home after walking the kids to school, I counted 42 Jorougumo webs before I gave up counting--and I wasn't even halfway home!  Caught one having breakfast:

Somehow she just doesn't seem quite as...friendly as Charlotte...

According to Japanese folklore, Jorougumo ( whose name written with a different set of kanji can mean "Whore Spider") is a shape-shifter, like Kitsune (Fox) and Tanuki (Raccoon Dog).  In the Tonoigusa, an Edo period collection of stories, Jorougumo changes into a beautiful woman and asks a samurai to marry her.  In other stories, she traps a man with her silk and eats him--perhaps a reference to the fact that the females of this family usually eat their mates (kowai!)  In the photo below, look carefully and you can see the golden color of the web silk that gives this family of spiders its name.  The related species in the U.S. is Nephila Clavipes, but only in the south (which explains why I, being from Indiana, had never seen one of these before).
...nom, nom, nom ...

The little Buddhist temple up the road has a cemetery in back that abuts the mountain.  The Jourogumo back there were simply enormous.  I had to walk slowly to avoid walking through webs.

In the course of observing spiders far more closely than I have ever done, I realized with a start that a spider's web is not it's home.  Well--it is, and it isn't.   It's her shopping cart. It's how she eats.  An entomologist may well disagree with that notion, but I think it's apt.  If you think about it, a spider hanging head down in the middle of her web is extremely vulnerable--to predation, to accidents, to the elements.  A house is a shelter--it's supposed to protect  from those dangers.  In the video above, the spider fled to a corner of her web when she was startled by a passing car.  Had something touched her web, she'd have climbed one of her anchor threads and hidden in the bush. At the temple, one enterprising jorougumo had anchored her web in a corner of the temple itself, relying, I suppose, on the protection of the Buddha to keep her from harm and fill her web with food.  As I watched, a grasshopper blundered into her web--a feast!  And I discovered how the males get a bite to eat--quietly, stealthily, down from a corner of the web, up and over his busy mate's abdomen, to reach the struggling grasshopper, et viola!  3 ji oyatsu--a 3 o'clock snack...

Just mentioning the elements reminds me that a typhoon is coming this weekend.  Oh no!  All those webs will be ripped apart in the wind--especially webs strung between trees or power lines.  I wonder where they hide during a storm?  In knotholes?   Under leaves?  In the ground?  I could look it up, I suppose, but I'm going to see if I can find out for myself.

This just in!  As pasted from Wiki:
Researchers, lead by Masao Nakagaki, at Shinshu University, Japan have succeeded in creating a silk thread that is stronger, softer and more durable than conventional silk by injecting silkworm eggs with genes of the spider. The silkworms that hatch weave cocoons containing 10% spider protein. The dragline silk is said to have many uses, such as: bulletproof vests, sutures after an operation, tennis rackets, fishing line, and nets. A Japanese manufacturer named Okamoto has begun developing commercial applications for the spider silk, and plans to release extra-thin, durable spider socks by year 2010.
 Spider socks?!!  Must. Have. Now.  I totally need spider-silk socks to go with my magnetic sensory field bat belt...

Mata asobou, ne!
p.s.--I got so many mosquito bites taking these pictures, you just have no idea!
p.p.s.--I managed to not fall off my bike.  But that's because I was walking, although I nearly fell into a cistern...


  1. Happy Halloween! Great post, I love all the pictures-- they're really clear. But if I actually saw one in real life I'd probably scream and run like a madman. Hehe^^
    Today we ate tamagoyaki in class--and it tasted more like cake then egg, but it was extremely yummy. Usually people put up lights and scary stuff on their front lawns on Halloween but there's less and less each year. My mom says it's because of the economy. What do little kids do for Halloween in Japan?

    P.s- after lunch today we watched my neighbor totoro in Japanese with no subs. it was fun watching it! ;)

  2. These spiders really are everywhere this time of year--you have to watch it walking around the back of a house, or you'll have one scrambling down your back...(shuddering?:))

    My kids *love* Tamagoyaki--probably because it's sweet. It's easy to make: an egg (or two), a little shoyu (soy sauce) and sugar. You can add a tiny bit of milk, too, if you want. Even if you don't have that small square pan, you can just use a regular frying pan and flip it like a pancake.

    People with little kids recently have Halloween parties or get-togethers with friends, but it's within a group. Nobody goes "out" TrickorTreating as in the US. Kids in English classes, of course, have "Halloween" in their class (I did that, too--they're *so* cute! "Hoppy Ho ro u eem!")

    p.s.--How much of Totoro could you understand?:))

  3. Your sister's going to go ape!

    Liked the point about homes and shopping baskets. I'd never even considered that, yet it seems so obvious now you've pointed it out.

  4. She hasn't commented yet...:))

    It was cool, actually, taking these pictures--I was literally eye-to-eye. Getting up that close and just watching (and noticing that none of the spiders seemed to have any desire to attack me), I pretty much lost the squeamishness I used to have about spiders. Lately, I notice spiders the same way I notice birds (though considerably less adept at it:)).

    And it's cats and dogs outside--typhoon should be passing right over us this evening. So now I can't help thinking of the spiders. That big fat one I snapped yesterday had an enormous web that's going to get blown to bits (and is probably gone already, judging from the way it looks right now).

    I'm still thinking about home vs. shopping basket--since other spiders have different kinds of webs.

    I think people around here think I'm officially nuts now..."why is she taking a picture of...?" "A spider, see! Jorougumo-a nice big one!" "Oh..." Although yesterday I got into a nice conversation with three grandpas out working in their gardens, and even got a bunch of Komatsuna greens out of it, which we ate for dinner!

  5. SCREEEEEEEEEEEEECHHHHHH!!!!!!!!! AAAAAAACCCCCKKKKKKKK!!!!!!!!! And I thought you loved me..... I almost fell off my chair trying to scroll down past the pictures while covering my eyes!!

    Yep. you got me. horrible, horrible spiders..... >>>>>shivers<<<<<<

    I actually had a funny dream 2 nights ago, concerning bugs. In it, I had found a large beetle, the Mushikingu type with the horns, except that its back shell was all blue irridescent loveliness. In the dream I must have been in Japan, because you came by to say how pretty you thought it was, and we decided that Koshi would love to see it, so you went to find him, and I bent down to pick up the beetle. But the beetle hated me, and so it bit my knee and injected something inside that split my knee wide open and looked like several small octopus tentacles which I had to dig out. In the dream it didn't hurt, but I was worried about having to go to the doctor for stitches, and I was miffed that the beetle had atacked me.
    And then you brought Koshi over, he looked at the beetle, shrugged his shoulders, and went traipsing off with a girl. You said, "I guess he's into girls now instead of bugs." I couldn't believe I had just pulled tentacles out of my knee for nothing.

  6. GAH!!! I just had a huge post that went into the ether!! I'll try again... hang on...

  7. PS, seriously, I couldn't even read the post... you may have to email it to me in text-only form! lol!

  8. Tee Hee! No--i really do love you, but I had all these cool pictures:)) There's video, too! ok--I'll copy and email the text to you. I won't make you look at spiders any more.

    Weird dream! I can see how stitches would work their way in, give what you just did to your finger--but tentacles? Hmmm--have you been reading Pharyngula? PZ Meyers uses a tentacled octopus for the flying spaghetti monster...
    And Koshi and girls--we know where that came from:)) Although, a girl told him she liked him, not the other way round. Koshi's still pretty much into bugs (we have crawdads again...o\/o), because I sure haven't seen him playing with girls!

  9. Crawdads again?? Sigh.... the genkon was so clean... :-(

    And yes, please do send me the text in an email! I just caught the end of the last paragraph and saw something about spider silk socks! I might hate spiders, but socks out of webs? SUPER COOL.

  10. spider socks would be AWESOME!
    I totally agree with you that watching spiders is great, and it definitely helps with not being afraid of them (that said, i don't really want them ON me...)

    we had a spider in the corner of our office that built a web and then had a little tunnel in the back. We'd throw flies onto his web and he'd scurry out, grab the fly and then hang them below his tunnel. Unfortunately he has since moved out

  11. 'Ello Ann. Yes, sometimes it's just like I'm clairvoyant.

  12. Hi Falen--I keep a little jumpy spider, too. Actually, I think there are two of them around here, since they look different (that's the big clue:)). They're so cute and little, I don't figure they'd hurt anybody, so I just leave them be. Sometimes one of them crawls across my screen. I wonder what it looks like to him? Probably like standing way too close to a Seurat painting...

    Daz--I'm going to tell James Randi about your amazing powers of clairvoyancy:)) It was bad--I had to copy and paste the whole text into an email with no pictures (except the one of our temple down the road). Poor baby sis:))

  13. I knew you were going to say that...

    Talking of spiders, though, have you ever heard of the orchid spider? Lovely! And for anyone who hates trying to get spiders out of the bath, here's a great idea. (Possibly)

  14. Oooohh--pretty! I wonder if it's in the Golden Orb-Web family, too--the legs are similar (curved inward for spinning, instead of outward for walking, like tarantulas, for example).

    A spider ladder--awesome! Oddly, in spite of the very deep bathtubs over here, I've never had a spider in the tub, I don't think. Usually the tub lid is closed, so they probably wouldn't be able to get in. Summer, though, the lid is off... hmmmm..

  15. Amy. Wonderful post. Spiders have always had the dual effect of fascination and goosebumps. Most of the time fascination wins but every so often I'll be in our back yard watching a spiders and a brief involuntary shiver will cross my spine. I believe there is something hardwired into us in regards to snakes and spiders.

    But they are amazing. These look huge but it's hard to tell. Next time could you place your hand behind them when taking the photo as to give us some perspective. ;-) Have your husband video the entire affair from a distance just for our sake. Please.

    Watching the web spinning always fills me with a sense of wonder. I know the theists misuse the word terribly but it is a true miracle that a few basic laws of nature can combine with luck and some randomness and will eventually form that. Too cool.

  16. KK--thanks so much! I actually have a bunch more spider shots (all of different species than the one in this post), so I'll probably do a Spiders II post at some point (with suitable warning for my sis, who freaks out about spiders:)). Next time I'm out, I'll take a ruler with me--how's that! Actually, I wish I'd thought of that myself before I started taking pictures--it would be nice to have at least one shot of each with an obvious way to know how big they are...

    And as for the miraculous--don't even get me started! I think it the height of irony that when nontheists are accused of "not believing in miracles", the examples of miracles generally trotted out by believers are typically natural phenomena: the rising sun, a rainbow, an unfolding flower, a spider spinning its web, the birth of a child. Exactly the things, in other words, that naturalists and freethinkers have been saying for years are the only phenomena that deserve the name "miracle", especially when compared to what normally passes for miraculous among the religious--water walking, tears from a statue, turning a rod into a snake, the sun standing still in the sky--things that are unlikely and unprovable at best, tawdry at worst.

  17. My late reply, hehe^^

    I understood the simple stuff, but for the most part I relied on the expressions they had on their faces--and the occasional side comments from my sensei about the more cultural aspect of the movie--which happens to be a whole lot of it. Sensei said that it was an accurate description of what life was like in Japan.

  18. Hi, Ezmirelda! I'm impressed that you could understand even some of a full length movie after only two years of Japanese--I know I couldn't have when I was taking German:)) Totoro is very accurate--your sensei is right. I can tell almost what week of what month it is by what flowers he draws in the backgrounds.
    And as for facial expressions--you rely on facial expressions even in English, you're just not as aware of it. When I lived in Germany in college, I freaked the first time I had to answer the phone. I thought I was doing alright understanding, and suddenly I couldn't understand one single word! "What's wrong with me?!" Later I figured out why it was so hard--because I couldn't read lips to help me figure out what the other person was saying. It's still hard for me here, even after living in Japan for 13 years and using the language every day. The kids have to be *completely* slient, or I can't understand the person on the phone. If it's someone I know well, it's not so bad. But somebody I don't know who calls and suddenly starts spouting Keigo...aaahhh!!! I don't know what you're saying! Slow down! Use shorter words!